Ron Darling was in the Mets’ TV broadcast booth on the afternoon of April 7, 2013, curious to see the 20-year-old rookie pitcher for the Marlins everyone was buzzing about.
The word was out on Jose Fernandez.
“I had heard about him,” said Darling, a former pitcher who won 136 games in the majors. “But I’ve heard about a lot of pitchers. Until you see them you really don’t know.”
By the end of the day, Darling and anyone else who watched the performance — Fernandez’s major-league debut — were convinced. Fernandez was the real deal.
“I know one thing,” Darling said. “After that, when I told people who asked me about him, I said you’ve got to watch this Fernandez all year. Whatever chance you get, you’ve got to watch this kid pitch.”
Poised beyond his years, unfazed by the hostile crowd at Citi Field, Fernandez was sensational, retiring the first 10 batters he faced while striking out eight in only five innings.
Friday marked the four-year anniversary of Fernandez’s debut, and they are still talking about it — even in New York.
“He was a hulking young man, like a man-child almost,” Darling said.
Fernandez wasn’t even supposed to be with the Marlins. He should have been in the minors, pitching at Double A Jacksonville. But when two starters went down with injuries, the Marlins called up Fernandez to fill one of the spots.
“We didn’t know what we were going to get, especially being in New York,” said reliever A.J. Ramos, one of three Marlins who remain from that team. “It was kind of last-minute when they put him on the roster. I just remember [thinking], ‘Let’s see what we got here.’ Once he pitched, we said this guy is special.”
Giancarlo Stanton was equally impressed.
Stanton said Fernandez made the Mets “look silly.”
“It was like the varsity playing against the J.V.,” Stanton said.
In the first inning, Fernandez needed just eight pitches to retire the first three Mets hitters on fly balls. In the second, he struck out the side. It wasn’t until Daniel Murphy singled with one out in the fourth that the Mets finally managed to put a runner on base.
“He was very emotional that day, but not in a nervous way, and not in an anxious way,” recalled shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. “He was almost too fired up for the moment.”
Darling said it was obvious that Fernandez brought a unique energy to the mound.
“Right away, if you watch enough games or play the game, there are certain people who stand out,” Darling said. “He stood out in every way. His presence on the mound. His personality.”
Ramos said Fernandez erased any doubts that day about whether he belonged. While Fernandez failed to pick up the when when closer Steve Cishek blew the save by giving up two runs in the ninth, Ramos said it was clear that the right-hander was there to stay.
“The moment wasn’t too big for him,” Ramos said. “You see a lot of rookies making debuts. They’re a little more reserved and quiet. You can kind of tell they’re a little nervous. Jose was ready for the moment. It was like the perfect moment for him.”
▪ Saturday: Marlins LHP Adam Conley (2017 debut) at Mets RHP Robert Gsellman (0-0, 0.00), 7:10 p.m., Citi Field.
▪ Sunday: Marlins RHP Edinson Volquez (0-0, 0.00) at Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard (0-0, 0.00), 8:05 p.m., Citi Field.